ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE SQUARES: CHETNA MAKAN’S COOKBOOK REVIEW

Last year I binge-watched The Great British Bake Off, originally aired in 2014. One of the reasons it took me so long to go for it, is my intense dislike of ANY food competition. I was never too wild about Iron Chef, barely stand the countless versions of Chopped, and despise Cutthroat Kitchen with every cell of my body. There. I feel better. But, despite all that, one day I sat down and put the first episode of The Great British Bake Off to play. I was hooked. First and foremost for the friendly atmosphere. When you watch any of the competition shows from FoodTV-USA, it is impossible to ignore a certain mean streak in the competitors. Each one wants to win so bad, they keep hammering on why they are clearly better than all others. The blatant arrogance really bothers me. I also prefer the format of the British show, particularly when all contestants need to make the exact same (very challenging)  recipe and it gets evaluated in a single-blind way. Today I share with you a recipe from the cookbook of my favorite contestant,  Chetna Makan. She made it almost to the end, facing all sorts of challenges with poise, grace, and a warm smile. And after the recipe, I will walk you through The Cardamon Trail. What a beautiful name!

ROSE, CARDAMON AND COFFEE DESSERT SLICES
(published with permission from Chetna Makan) 

200g (7oz) chocolate digestive biscuits
50g (1 ¾ oz) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
225ml (8fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon coffee granules
3 large egg yolks
75g (2 ¾ oz) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
250g (9oz) mascarpone cheese
1 teaspoon rosewater
white chocolate curls to decorate

Heat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

Grease a 20cm (8in) square cake tin and line it with nonstick baking paper. Put the digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling-pin to crush them to crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and pour in the melted butter, mixing thoroughly so that the crumbs are completely coated. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to create a smooth, even base layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then set aside to cool completely.

In a small pan, slowly heat the milk to scalding point. Add the ground cardamom and coffee granules and mix well, then remove the pan from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and 2 tablespoons of the spiced milk together to form a smooth paste. Slowly add the remaining milk, whisking the whole time. Tip this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 2– 3 minutes until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes until lukewarm.

Put the measured boiling water in a small bowl and sprinkle in the gelatine. Stir until the gelatine powder has dissolved. Add this to the lukewarm pastry cream and mix well. In another bowl, beat the mascarpone and rosewater together. Fold this into the pastry cream and pour the mixture over the biscuit base. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to set.

When ready to serve, carefully remove the cake from the tin and cut it into squares. To finish, sprinkle with white chocolate curls (or any decoration you prefer). The slices will keep, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Chetna described it perfectly! This is a dessert for grownups. It has that exotic quality, the barely there sweetness, a very unique and complex mixture of flavors. I loved it!  I must confess I messed up big time, though. I used the wrong type of  cookies for the base. She specified chocolate digestifs for the base, but our grocery store carried only two types: regular digestifs, or some with a coating of chocolate at the bottom, very similar to these beauties made from scratch by my friend Karen. After I made the dessert, I exchanged emails with Chetna and she told me I could have used the digestifs either plain or with the chocolate coating, but the type of cookie I used (very thin chocolate Goya Maria brand) would need tweaking, probably some other binding agent to properly work. Learned a lesson there. The result is that the base got a bit too crumbly rather than giving a nice support to the deliciously smooth top layer.  I intend to make it again soon, but did not want to wait any longer to blog about it. So make sure to gather the right tools for the job…

TEASER RECIPE

On the very same day I made a batch of her Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate cookies… 


OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE

The cookie dough is made with self-rising flour, butter, two types of sugar, a touch of cinnamon and ground cloves. Then chocolate chips and diced pistachio nuts are mixed in.  I substituted white chocolate because I found out that I had 4 bags of white chocolate chips and not a single one of semi-sweet. Apparently every time I go to the grocery store I tell myself “you better get a bag of white chocolate chips, because you only have the dark ones.”  In case you did not know, I do research for a living. Shocking, I know. Once again, Chetna describes these gems very well:

Yes, everyone thought they come together beautifully….

And now that I shared a recipe and teased you with another one, let’s take a walk through
The Cardamon Trail: Chetna Bakes with Flavours of the East..

Chetna opens the book explaining that it is all about her culinary journey. It brings her food memories in the form of lovely bakes and new taste sensations. She grew up in Jabalpur, a city in central India, and her cooking is heavily influenced by her Mom, who cooked every single meal from scratch while Chetna was growing up.  Her book is divided in six  chapters, as follows:

Cakes. Each of the twenty cakes featured is enticing to me. Always some unexpected flavor that takes them to a higher level.  The very first one, Pear and Cardamon Caramel Upside Cake, already got me dreaming. You might remember that I have a very weak spot for cardamon, so obviously this cake speaks dearly to me.  Second one? Mango, Cardamon & Coconut Cake. Next? Rose and Honey Cake.  But so many more: Rose, Mint, and White Chocolate Cheesecake, Orange and Cinnamon Mini-Cakes (I almost picked them to showcase in this post).  Pistachio, Cardamon, and White Chocolate Cake… Saffron Meringue Cake…  Masala Chai Cake…. Black Sesame and Lime Cake… I tell you, it’s one temptation after another, a showcase of interesting flavor combinations.

Pies and Tarts. This chapter brings savory stuff to the game. I list my favorites: Peach, Star Anise, and Almond Tart…  Chocolate and Mango Tart (beautiful photo!)…  Passion Fruit, Lime, and Ginger Tart. On the savory front,  very creative recipes like Moong Dal Pie, Curry Onion Tart, and Chickpea Curry Pie. I definitely do not bake pies and tarts often enough. Hubby is usually the one in charge of those concoctions. But I need to get more practice and make them by myself.

Sweet Things. Twenty seven goodies for you there… She opens this chapter with something called Saffron Rasgulla, and I think it’s something I had once at a party and fell madly in love with. A little soft ball of curdled milk and saffron, cooked in a simple syrup. I could enjoy that every day of my life without ever getting tired of it. It seems a bit involved to make, but Chetna says it’s not that hard. It is a specialty from Western India.  Now, are you ready for this? Fig and Chocolate Macarons. Yes, my obsession of the past few years! She shares a great take on this French classic. Which of course, I intend to make in the near future. The only reason I did not pick them to feature, is the fact that I have two macaron recipes already waiting in line. The Rose, Cardamon & Coffee Dessert Slices come from this session of her book, as well as the Clove, Cinnamon and Chocolate Cookies, my teaser recipe.  I also bookmarked Sweet Baked Samosas (I am addicted to the savory version),  Mango and Passion Fruit Baked Yogurt, and Star Anise and Rhubarb Profiteroles. She does incredibly nice variations on classic desserts, I love it!

Savory Small Bites. A lot of savory things to tempt you here, I will just list the ones that would be my top choices. Corn Rolls: these are inspired again by one of her Mom’s recipes, Chetna uses phyllo dough to make little parcels with sweet corn kernels mixed with ginger, chilli, and other spices.  They get baked and served warm with chutney. O.M.G. Coriander Chicken Parcels made with puff pastry seem like perfection to me…  Tapioca Vada is another intriguing recipe, different from anything I’ve ever tried. Tapioca pearls are mixed with water to form a kind of dough that gets mixed with mashed potatoes, crushed roasted peanuts and spices. The mixture is fried until golden brown, forming little patties that I am sure are addictive.  I was also quite taken by her Buckwheat Potato Pakoras, I never skip ordering pakoras when I go to an Indian restaurant. Vegetarians will love her Cashew Nut and Paneer Koftas, which use desiccated coconut to improve texture.  But my favorite of this chapter might very well be her Savory Semolina Cake, with spinach and spices such as ginger, turmeric, and black mustard seeds. The photo is drool-inducing.

Breads. Twenty options to make any baker happy.  She opens the chapter with a show-stopping bread: Savory Potato Couronne. It is simply gorgeous, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

The dough is enriched with milk, eggs, and butter, then some grated boiled potatoes are mixed in. The exotic ingredient amchur (mango powder) is also included in the dough. Obviously, I need to get some. Tomato and Paneer Loaf is a nice example of a quick bread, made in a loaf pan. Another absolutely gorgeous picture included. Now, how about some Cumin Bread with Smoked Eggplant? I swear, it’s just one amazing twist after another. Another great temptation for yours truly, Chocolate and Chilli Loaf.  As Chetna put it:

This beautiful loaf has the indulgent feel of a cake yet is, in fact, very light…
The cocoa creates a deep-colored loaf, while the chilli provides a real kick to the aftertaste.

A couple more examples for you, Star Anise, Date, and Chocolate Bread (amazing shaping), and a Lemon Challah with Coconut Paneer. She closes the chapter with several options for Parathas, and a Chicken Naan. Yes, you read it correctly. A version of the quick bread naan, turned into a full meal with ground chicken and plenty of spices. To die for, I am sure!

Accompaniments. In this chapter, she offers little goodies that will go well with many of the recipes in the book. Seven types of chutney, two types of pickles (beets, and cauliflower), Indian Coleslaw, and three types of Raita, the classic cucumber, plus Boondi and Bhindi Raitas. Curious? Boondi are fried chickpeas… Imagine them as a base for raita… Bhindi is okra. Not my favorite veggie in the world, but I bet that prepared the way Chetna describes, I would eat it all with a big smile!

So that wraps up our walk through The Cardamon Trail.  In my mind, it is a perfect cookbook because I adore spices both in savory and sweet concoctions. As I watched the Great British Bake Off, Chetna’s confidence and creativity with the use of spices left a huge impression on me. This book simply confirms her skills. I could not wait to start baking once I got the book downloaded, but then was sort of paralyzed by the number of recipes I picked as “top” choices.

To order the book, click here

I would also like to mention that Chetna has a blog and is also very active uploading videos on her youtube channel.  On youtube you can see her cooking with her kids, with her Mom, it’s really nice!  I subscribe to both blog and videos, so I never miss anything new coming from her.

Chetna, thank you for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes…
I am just about to start a batch of your Black Sesame and Macha Tuiles…
looking forward to enjoying them!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

ONE YEAR AGO: When Side Dishes Steal the Show

TWO YEARS AGO: Venting on Vaccines

THREE YEARS AGO: Prime Rib Roast, Mexican Style

FOUR YEARS AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

FIVE YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

SIX YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

THE JOYS OF GRATING SQUASH

Have you ever thought of eating raw butternut squash? Probably not. Well, I am here to tell you it is surprisingly good, but I cannot take credit for this mind-blowing gastronomic twist. I saw this recipe years ago watching Southern at Heart, hosted by Damaris Phillips. Made a note to try, in fact I went as far as printing the recipe and filing it in my gigantic folder entitled “To Make Soon” ideas. Forgot about it until last month, when our friend Cindy visited us and mentioned that she makes it often, it is now one of her favorite salads. That nudged me in the right direction. Now, I will not lie to you, grating butternut squash is not fun. But once you try this simple, but super flavorful salad, you will grate it wearing a smile of anticipation. Ok, that might be a bit of a stretch…

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SLAW
(adapted from Damaris Phillips)

2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, grated on a box grater
1/4 cup dried green raisins (or substitute regular raisins)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
salt and black pepper to taste

Whisk together the maple syrup, vegetable oil and sherry vinegar in a large bowl. Add the squash, green raisins, and sunflower seeds; toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: For this salad, I used a new (to me) ingredient, green raisins. I first learned about them in a cookbook called Bowls of Plenty, by Carolynn Carreno. She confessed being addicted. I was lucky enough to find a bag in our special Oriental grocer in town, and brought it home. They look exactly the way a green raisin should look. Green. Not yellow, not brown. They are delicious indeed. I would say less sweet, almost lemony. Perfect for this salad, in place of dried cherries used by Damaris.  Feel free to substitute any dried fruit of your choice. All it matters in the salad is some bits of sweetness.  The raw butternut squash considerably mellows down by sitting with the dressing.  Leftovers were still very good next day, actually. And a tiny bit that was left on day three was incorporated in a stir-fry with ground turkey. I felt virtuous, even if the resulting dish was not exactly eye-candy. But, it all looked pretty nice on the first time around, as you can see below…

Dinner served: Butternut Slaw, Asparagus, and Grilled Pork Tenderloin.
Life is pretty good.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

ONE YEAR AGO: Auberge-Pecan Walnut Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Gluten-free and Vegan Raspberry Bars

THREE YEARS AGO: Lasserre, a French Classic

FOUR YEARS AGO: Sourdough Bread with Walnuts and Dates

FIVE YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Apricot Glaze

SIX YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin and Blue Cheese

SOUP SATURDAY: MEXICAN SOUPS

SOUP SATURDAY IS ON!

Third Saturday of the month, it’s time for soup! This month our event is hosted by the one and only, Karen from Karen’s Kitchen Stories. I’ve been a follower for a long time, and if you read my blog, you might remember I’ve made quite a few recipes from her site. The Bread Queen! For this event, she chose Mexican Soups. My first thought was tortilla soup, since it’s something I’ve been meaning to make for a while. But before settling on that classic, I sat down with some of my cookbooks. Maybe I should say I sat down with my iPad to electronically browse through my cookbooks. Yes, I might have a slight cookbook obsession, but I do so while sparing trees. The moment I laid my eyes on Marcela Valladolid’s Manchego and Poblano Soup, I knew it had to be it.  First, I love poblanos because their heat does not scream at you or threaten to strip the outer layer of your larynx. Second, Manchego cheese is a favorite of ours. We got hooked on this Spanish delicacy many years ago through our friends and next door neighbors back in Oklahoma. Ever since that time, we always seem to have a piece of Manchego in our fridge. Just because.  If you have trouble finding it, a Monterey Jack, with its nice melting qualities will do.

MANCHEGO AND POBLANO SOUP
(adapted from Marcela Valladolid’s Fresh Mexico)

7 poblano chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 medium shallots, halved
1/4 cup water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 + 1/2  tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup grated Manchego cheese (or Monterey Jack cheese)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
diced Manchego cheese for serving, to taste
Tajin seasoning (optional)

Bring a medium-size heavy saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the poblanos and shallots and cook for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain them and transfer to a blender. Add  ¼ cup water. Blend until smooth. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking constantly, but not allowing it to brown. Reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the chile mixture. Cook, whisking, for a few minutes until slightly thickened. Whisk in the milk. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook, whisking every minute or so to prevent scorching, for about 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened.

Whisk in the grated Manchego cheese. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, and top with the diced cheese, plus a sprinkle of Tajin seasoning, if using.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


Comments: I modified the recipe quite a bit from Marcela’s version. She used double the amount of poblanos. Fourteen. You read me right. I could not bring myself to make it so peppery. I also modified the cooking method. I am really pleased with the resulting soup, creamy, just the right amount of heat, and that final touch of adding small cubes of Manchego cheese floating on top is sublime! As you get a spoonful, that cheese melts and fills your mind with happy thoughts. Then you get all cozy and warm inside. There was a bit of texture in my soup, even though I used a powerful Vitamix to blend it. It did not bother me, but just for fun I passed leftovers through a chinois. It turned out quite spectacular that way, I would follow the extra step if serving it for company.  There I go again, dreaming with soup shots. A recurring theme. Must do something about it.

Wendy, thanks for organizing the Soup Saturday Event, and Karen, thanks for hosting this month! 

You can take a nice tour of Mexican Soups made by my virtual friends with a click on the link at the bottom of the post. Have fun!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

ONE YEAR AGO: A Smashing Pair

TWO YEARS AGO: Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

THREE YEARS AGO: Crispy Chickpea and Caper Spaghetti

FOUR YEARS AGO: Spring has Sprung!

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chickpea and Fire Roasted Tomato Soup

SIX YEARS AGO: Double Asparagus Delight

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Sun-dried Tomato and Feta Cheese Torte

 

https://static.inlinkz.com/cs2.js

Save

Save

Save

TIRAMISU

Some things do not make much sense. Take Tiramisú, for instance. It is definitely one of our favorite desserts, up there with Crème Brûllée and Oeufs a la Neige. However, after almost 8 years of food blogging, I do not have a single recipe for it in the Bewitching Kitchen. How could that be? I’ve made it in the past, but during this stretch of 8 years we’ve only enjoyed it in restaurants. To be completely honest, one example totally ruined us for other versions. A small Italian restaurant in Paris, called La Trappola, very near our apartment in the 7eme had simply the best, the very best, the most awesome, delicious, luscious, fantastic, superbly addictive Tiramisú in the known universe. Before we left Paris, I tried to convince the owner to share his secrets, but no matter how much batting of eyelashes and smiling I did, he was unmoved. Acted like a real gentleman, but kept saying he wanted us to come back to his restaurant whenever we were in town. Yeah, as if Paris was a cab ride from Manhattan, Kansas. The humanity! Oh, well. I don’t have his recipe, but David Lebovitz shared his online, and I can tell you it made Phil and a couple of friends we had over for dinner very very happy. Oh, and me too!

TIRAMISU
(slightly modified from David Lebovitz)

makes 4 servings
1/2 cup (125 ml) espresso, at room temperature
2 tablespoons dark rum
2  large eggs, separated, at room temperature
pinch of salt
7 tablespoons (90g) sugar, divided
1 cup (250g) mascarpone
twelve 3½-inch ladyfingers (70g)
optional: 1 ounce (30g) bittersweet chocolate
unsweetened cocoa powder, for serving
 .
Mix together the espresso and rum. The mixture should taste strongly of alcohol. If not, add more until it does.
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they begin to get stiff. Beat in half of the sugar until stiff. Scrape the egg whites into a small bowl and reserve.
.
Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until stiff and light-colored, about three minutes. Beat in the mascarpone (still cold from the fridge) until lump-free. 
Fold in half of the reserved beaten egg whites, then the remaining half, just until fully incorporated.
.
Submerge each ladyfinger in the espresso mixture for 3 seconds on each side, until soaked but not overly so. Layer them on the bottom of individual serving bowls. Top with mascarpone cream, grate semisweet chocolate on top. Add another layer of lady fingers, top with more cream. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, preferably overnight.
.
Right before serving, shower with cocoa powder and shave some bittersweet chocolate on top.
.
ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: At first I intended to make a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, but when I realized the huge amount it made, I quickly moved away from it, but kept some of their special tips in mind. One of them: contrary to what most recipes advise, do not bring the mascarpone cheese to room temperature before beating it. It has a tendency to separate. It will result in a perfectly creamy texture if you whip it while fridge-cold. Yeah, mind blown. So that’s what I did.  Worked like a charm. Also, I prefer not to over-soak the lady fingers, because I rather have a little bit of texture remaining in the cookie component. If you go by Lebovitz, he states “cut them in half to make sure they are saturated enough, they should be dropping wet.”  Decide how you like it best, and do it that way.

I wanted a recipe that would give us just enough for a dinner party with a couple of friends, and David’s version delivered exactly what I was looking for. I got the little glass dishes at Pier 1 Imports. They had only 6 left in stock, and by the time I left, their inventory dropped to two. It gave me a thrill to find exactly what I needed, one day before showtime. It’s not always the case, trust me on that.

Was it as good as La Trappola’s?  I am afraid nothing will match that version. Maybe being in Paris was part of it. Still, this was one spectacular dessert. At first I thought the portion was a bit too big. But next thing I knew, I was licking the spoon and staring at a clean little bowl. Such is life.  Woke up next morning and went for a nice jog. Order of the universe restored!

As I was composing this post, Phil found two photos from our past…
One at the entrance of La Trappola, and another of the Tiramisu of our dreams!  

(unfortunately La Trappola is not in business anymore)

 

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

ONE YEAR AGO: Pulled Pork, Slow-Cooker version

TWO YEARS AGO: The Pie of the Century

THREE YEARS AGO: Bon Bon Chicken

FOUR YEARS AGO: Leaving on a Jet Plane

FIVE YEARS AGO: A Pearfect Drink

SIX YEARS AGO: Ming Tsai Under Pressure

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Paris, je t’aime!

Save

SWEET POTATO “HUMMUS”

My fingers are firmly crossed that there is no such thing as the Hummus Protection Squad, or I’d be in serious trouble. You can call it a “dip” if it makes you feel better, it’s fine with me.  I adapted the recipe from several different sources, but the little detail I loved the most was using the microwave to cook the sweet potato. The flavor was still quite intense and the prep time substantially faster when compared to roasting, steaming, or boiling. Since America Test Kitchen recommended this method in several of their dips, I knew it would work. Those guys work hard to control all variables in their culinary experiments.

SWEET POTATO “HUMMUS”
(inspired by several sources)

1 pound sweet potatoes (two, medium-large)
¾ cup water
¼ cup tahini
1 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tablespoons yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
toasted sesame seeds (optional)
drizzle of olive oil (optional)

Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork.  Place them over a paper towel in the microwave and cook until very soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow the potatoes to cool down until you can handle them safely. Slice them in half, scoop the cooked flesh, discard the skins.

Place the cooked potato in the bowl of a food processor. Add the water, tahini, olive oil, yogurt, lemon juice, all the spices, and process until completely smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper

For best flavor, allow the hummus to sit at room temperature for half an hour or several hours in the fridge, bringing to room temperature before serving.  Drizzle with olive oil and toasted sesame seeds, if desired.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here


Comments: First of all, don’t twist your nose at the microwave step. It works not only for sweet potatoes, but – ready for this? – eggplant! If you like to make baba ganush and until now have roasted the eggplant, give the microwave a chance. I intend to blog about it sometime, but it might take a while. I first saw it in an old book by Barbara Kafka, The Microwave Gourmet. Her words: the eggplant cooked in the microwave retains a beautiful green color, rather than taking on the dull brown of roasted eggplant. Mind blowing, don’t you think? Anyway, I hope I convinced you to try it.

I did not expect to like this departure on my favorite classic as much as I did. The texture won me over, big time, it is very creamy. The tahini takes it into hummus territory with the help of all the spices, but has a slightly sweeter and less sharp taste. I cannot quite comprehend that some people would not like the original version, but if you find yourself faced with entertaining these rare individuals, consider making this variation. It will be a hit.  As to what to enjoy it with, we have always been partial to Ak-Mak crackers, but the other day Phil brought home a box of Dr Kracker snackers and I have one word for you: dangerous. Actually, here is another: addictive. They are dangerously addictive. So so good! He found it at Marshalls, but here is a link to amazon, so you can see what I’m talking about. He bought two kinds, one with cheese and one with a mixture of seeds. I cannot decide which one I loved the most.  Even plain they are fantastic. You’ve been warned.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

ONE YEAR AGO: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

TWO YEARS AGO: Silky Rutabaga Puree

THREE YEARS AGO: Bon Bon Chicken: Light and Spectacular

FOUR YEARS AGO: Red Wine Sourdough Bread with Cranberries

FIVE YEARS AGO: Award-Winning Sourdough Baguettes

SIX YEARS AGO: Country Rye (Tartine)

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Penne a la Vechia Bettola

Save

FIRST MONDAY FAVORITE: MARCH 2017

Quick heads up: Karen just published a round up of breads in her blog, and I am thrilled to have one of my breads featured. Go visit and say hello with a click here

Yesterday was the First Monday of the month, so it’s time to showcase my favorite recipe of February. Come to think of it, 2017 could slow down a little, don’t we all agree? I am a tad late to join the virtual party, but better late than never.

One post was my favorite by far:

Lavender Macarons with White Chocolate Ganache…

How could I not choose this one to bring to the spotlight?

lavender-macaroncover

 

If you’d like to read the full post, click here.

Thank you Sid, for organizing!  
If you are a food blogger and would like to participate, drop Sid a line.
The more, the merrier!

To see the contributions from my virtual friends, click on the link below

(comments are shutdown for this post)

https://static.inlinkz.com/cs2.js

Save

Save

Save

MY NEW FITNESS PROGRAM: JESSICA SMITH’S WALK STRONG

To all visitors coming from Jessica’s FB page: WELCOME!

It’s been a long time since I wrote a fitness-related post.  My last one was back in May 2014 when I wrapped up Tony Horton’s P90X3 system. Since that time, I’ve been mixing and matching routines of the original P90X with 90X3, plus jogging, walking, the eventual bad golfing. Tony Horton has been my virtual instructor for almost 8 years. It is hard for me to believe that I stuck with it for such a long time.  But what gives me a serious thrill is realizing that for 20 years I’ve maintained a very simple personal goal: each week I exercise more days than not. On a yearly basis that means going over the 50% mark of 183 exercise-days. The scientist in me obviously keeps track, as shown in the graph below. The black line across marks 183 days. Some years were a bit close, but I’ve fulfilled my goal since 1997. And that feels pretty awesome!

fitnessreport20

 

What’s the skinny with P90X?  Lately (in the past year and a half, I would say) injuries started to hit me on a more regular basis, some serious enough to require physical therapy. I got into an inner struggle. Part of me felt that P90X was inflicting more pain than gain, but on the other hand the thought of quitting and “losing” all the fitness gained through it was hard to deal with. Then it hit me: I started P90X because a serious post-marathon knee injury prevented me from running regularly. I needed something to fill that void. Maybe having to take a step back from P90X could bring something else positive too?

The search for new options. I went into a google expedition for fitness DVDs geared towards women. One thing I knew for sure, Jillian Michaels was out of question, as I have tried her routines and simply cannot stand her personality. I kept finding hits and more hits for this instructor called Jessica Smith. She has 18 DVDs available (!!!)  and the reviews she gets from users are in one word: stellar. I was intrigued. Decided to buy one of her multi-DVD series, called WALK STRONG: 6 Week Total Transformation System.  What would I have to lose?  It turns out nothing. And to gain? A LOT. Read on.

6week

Overview of the program: In the package, you’ll get 4 DVDs with a total of 10 workouts, plus a short video with the explanation of the system. You’ll also get a nice printout schedule to take you day by day through the 6-week stretch. If you have a dalmatian around named Bogey Quit That who can reach countertops and enjoys munching on paper, you could get in trouble. But, no worries: a printable version is available online that you can use as a backup. Less glamorous, but equally effective. Here is a snapshot of the first 3 weeks. Every week you’ll exercise 6 out of 7 days. Sounds gruesome, but it is definitely doable. In fact, I finished the 6-week program without missing a single day. Jeez, I am in such a bragging mode today…

 😉

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-1-51-42-pm

 

THE ROUTINES
Each approximately 30 minutes long.

Cardio Party. A nice aerobic workout that can be pushed higher in intensity if you incorporate jumping and kicking for parts of the routine. Even if you are not the most coordinated person in the known universe, you will have no problem following Jessica and the crowd. This video is the only one in the whole series that features a group of women working out together. All songs are great, you end up with a nice and fun workout that you can take to the intensity you fell comfortable with.

Total Body Training. Love this one. You will target your whole body using weights for almost the whole duration of the series, then go to the floor to target abs, back and hips. No muscle left untouched! You can increase the level at any time by using heavier weights. This is the type of routine that could be your default in days you don’t want to focus on a particular muscle group.

Brain Fitness Fun. Think of a mild aerobic class, but with movements that require you to pay attention and think fast. You might be asked to move your hands and arms in orientations that would be counter-intuitive in relation to your legs. Or move quickly hands and arms in opposite directions. I honestly do not know how Jessica can do it all without making a single mistake while talking and explaining the moves. I found myself violently slapping my hand on the forehead more than once, but thankfully there are no hidden cameras in our living room. It could result in some serious blackmailing. No bueno, folks, no bueno. But nevertheless, I persisted (wink, wink).

Barefoot Fusion Sculpt. This whole routine is to be performed barefoot, although if you have feet or ankle issues, you can definitely wear shoes. I would also classify this as a mild routine, although you can increase intensity by increasing the weight of dumbbells if you like. My favorite part of this routine, which surprised me – the inclusion of Tai Chi moves. I love them!  They flow nicely and make you work on balance and strive to be as graceful as Jessica. By the way, on the back you can see Jessica’s Mom, Debbie, very dedicated!

taichi
360 Abs.
I was completely skeptical about this one because in my mind nothing could come close to matching the original P90X Ab Ripper routine, which is 15 minutes long, all exercises performed laying on your back or side. Jessica Smith’s 360 Abs is twice as long and for 22 minutes you will be standing up. The moves target the core in a different way from your regular situps. After that you will lay on the floor and do variations on sit ups for the remaining time, with a bit of cool down included. The routine is awesome. I am totally into it now and noticed that the speed and intensity of P90X Ab Ripper was probably one of the things contributing to my lower back injury.

Dynamic Stretch. Let me get this upfront: I hate stretching. I was very tempted to just skip this routine and substitute with some good old aerobic stuff or heavy weight training. But, to properly review a system I stick with it first time around, not changing anything. This will not be 30 minutes of holding postures and breathing. It is exactly what the title states, a dynamic approach to stretching, with small movements, contracting and releasing muscles in a gentle way.  This routine and the Prehab are included for a reason, give your body a break so that exercising 6 days a week will not be a huge challenge. They are perfectly timed in between more challenging routines. I cannot believe I am saying this, but do not skip them.

words

Upper Body Strength. Awesome, simply awesome. Now, keep in mind that yours truly exercises with weights all the way to 20 pounds for P90X. In this series, I humbled down and my heaviest set is 5 pounds. At some point I intend to move to 8 pounds for a couple of exercises but that will take more time. Jessica works the muscle to a nice exhaustion through higher repetitions, lighter weights. Definitely less risk for injury. Don’t ask me how I know…

Lower Body Sculpt. Another great routine. My favorite part of this series is using dumbbells to target leg muscles. Imagine that you will hold a dumbbell on the back of your knee, then lift the leg, folded up and down and you support your upper body on the back of a high chair. Again the secret is repeating this “simple” movement over and over until you start to dislike Jessica. Nah, impossible, she is too nice to dislike.

Prehab Routine. As I mentioned, together with the Dynamic Stretch, this routine gives your body a nice break. However, in the final 8 minutes Jessica brings a nice series of exercises that are slightly more demanding and target two tricky areas for women: inner and outer thighs. Yeap. Those.

Interval Mix. My favorite. Absolute favorite.  This one had me taking steps back, because some of the bursts of 30 second high-intensity moves were hard on my lower back. As in every one of the videos, Jessica’s Mom does ALL the routines in the video.  She demonstrates slightly lower impact variations, and I followed her in some of the high intensity bits. Once my back is fully healed I will give it all my enthusiasm. Even modifying the intensity, this routine found me grasping for air.  Cannot give it enough praise. Absolute top.

I finished the 6 weeks without missing a day, and as soon as I did, I ordered a bunch of other DVDs from Jessica to try and incorporate to my rotations. I guess that shows you how much I loved it, right?

dvds

 

THE MANY THINGS I LOVE ABOUT WALK STRONG

Jessica’s personality. Before I ordered the 6-Week Total Transformation Program, I read plenty of reviews on amazon. One reviewer said that working out with Jessica is like exercising with your best friend. That is EXACTLY it. She comes across as the kind of person you would love to have a coffee with, invite for a movie, chit-chat. I hate to bring Jillian Michaels again, but let’s say it is her total opposite. JM says things a bit like “you think this is hard? I had 300 pound folks doing it, so stop whining and do it too.”  Now compare that to Jessica’s motto, which she gently brings up in all her routines:

feelsright

 

Modify whenever necessary. That  brings me to one of her greatest qualities: respecting your body and never ever going over what is safe. It doesn’t mean not challenging yourself. It means listening to your body and doing what feels right at that particular stage. Maybe you have an injury, maybe you are too tired or had a stressful afternoon. On the other hand, maybe you are super energetic and ready to face a heavier dumbbell. Let it all flow.

Jessica does all the routines. No stopping to highlight details or correct someone else’s form. She does every single move, beginning to end. Even though she is actually doing each exercise and instructing, she never misses a beat. I have a huge pet peeve with fitness instructors who get lost in the number of repetitions, and might cut short the series in one side of the body versus the other. This never happens on Jessica’s videos. Plus, you are never lost in the flow of movements because she tells you what will happen next, will even tap quickly the leg that will start the next movement, so that from the first time you use a particular video, you can follow it.

No rest for the wicked.  Thirty minutes of exercise means non-stop action. Once you start, there will be NO break. Maybe for some this is a drawback, but I find it great. The heart rate keeps up, time is used very efficiently.  The closest thing to a break is having to switch from a lighter to a heavier set of dumbbells, or go from standing up to laying down.

Thirty minutes are easy to stick with. One of the toughest things of the original P90X or other programs is the time involved. You need to spare sometimes one hour or more, which can be pretty hard to do when you have a busy schedule. Thirty minutes are easy to devote to it. C’mon, most people will sit and surf the net for longer than that when they get home from work… Why not devote these precious minutes to taking care of your body? It’s a no-brainer!

Every routine works the core. Even if the video is geared towards lower body, or stretching, at some point you will be targeting your core. I suspect that is what makes it more efficient than P90X to tone the mid-section. More on that later.

Real people in the videos. Cannot praise that enough. Every single video I’ve tried has “real people” in it. Healthy women with healthy bodies, wearing regular exercise clothes. The setting is nice, elegant and simple, often inside Jessica’s parents home in Florida, sometimes in the backyard with the ocean visible behind. Dreamy!

Background music. Another detail I fell in love with from the first video. The types of songs played are very diversified, from upbeat songs to Middle Eastern tunes, Japanese music, never too loud, and perfectly matching the exercises they go with.

Attention to form. Cannot stress this enough. Jessica will remind you constantly of details to pay attention to, from placement of your chin to tightening the core, where is your knee during a squat, how to position your hand while holding a dumbbell. And, something I do have trouble with, how to coordinate breathing with the moves. I definitely need to pay more attention to that, as I tend to hold my breath way too often.

So, what’s next for me?

P90X or Jessica Smith? I wanted to complete the 6-week program, give it a fair trial before deciding what to do next. As I mentioned, I was afraid of losing the level of fitness I acquired through years with Tony Horton. So what I did was to use some of the active rest days from Jessica’s program to “test myself” on P90X routines. I detected no loss in terms of number of push ups I could do in routines such as The Challenge, or how well I could keep up with intensely aerobic routines such as KenpoX.  Plus, to my surprise, I noticed that Jessica’s program seems more efficient to tone the core region, as well as upper legs. It is, in my opinion, a perfect system for women. Bottom line is: I am switching!munch-cartoon-sunday-timesAre you shocked?
😉

Yeap, Jessica will be my virtual trainer from now on, and Tony Horton will take a secondary spot. I am quite fond of some of his routines, but probably 90% of my sessions will be under the guidance on my new fitness guru. She is a superb trainer, period. And on a personal note, she is also very accessible, if you have questions, suggestions, she will actually reply to you by email and through her forum. I wrote the company to inquire about getting a new printout once Bogey destroyed mine, and almost fell off my chair when within minutes Jessica herself replied to me! She is one of a kind, and I am so glad I gave her system a try. I know it will be the perfect option for me, for years to come.

Before I leave, I invite you to visit her site, read her About page, and meet her super cute dog, Peanut. And if you are searching for a solid workout program to do in the comfort of your home, look no further. Jessica is there for you.

Reminder: I never receive compensation for any reviews I write. I only review products, books, and systems when I fall in love, head over heels. 

😉

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Overnight Coffee Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Zucchisagna: A Twist on a Classic

THREE YEARS AGO: Night and Day

FOUR YEARS AGO: Farro Salad with Roasted Leeks

FIVE YEARS AGO: Watercress Salad

SIX YEARS AGO: Carrot and Sweet Potato Puree’

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Croissants: Paris at home on a special day